Celebrated author Bernard Burt continues his tour of Asian Spas, this week we focus on the fresh-thinking approach at Four Seasons Resorts which takes the spa experience to new highs.This year`s recent developments include a private island in the Indian Ocean Republic of the Maldives, and a cooking school in Chiang Mai, the northern jewel of Thailand. Changing the name of two Regent properties in Thailand will further enhance Four Seasons` presence in Asia.
The spa experience at Four Seasons Resorts is a many splendid thing…
Going Native on Kuda Huraa
Step ashore at Four Seasons Resort Maldives Kuda Huraa and experience the serenity of a private island. The journey begins aboard a dhoni (traditional Maldivian wooden boat) as it cruises across turquoise waters to the spa`s wooden deck. Enticing scents of sandalwood waft through the air from aromatic burners resting on tall stone columns. Warm herbal teas and cool juices are served at the tented reception area, where you select from Ayurvedic, Maldivian, Thai, and Indonesian treatments.
Perched at the edge of the private island`s white sandy beach and atop the turquoise ocean are five thatched-roof treatment pavilions designed with couples in mind. Following a sandy path to your private pavilion, guests enter a wood-clad dressing and changing area equipped with steam shower and enclosed toilet. Beyond is a private garden courtyard with open-air shower; to the right, two wooden massage tables. Sliding doors open directly to the sea, allowing panoramic views of the turquoise water. Even under your massage table - built into the floor decking - is a rectangular viewing port to enjoy mesmerising ocean scenes.
Water-borne, you can soak in hydrotherapy tubs, or enjoy an overhead Vichy shower in the Maldivian Monsoon ritual. Developed by Belinda Shepherd, who is based at Four Seasons Resorts Bali, with Andria Lake, the Maldives resort spa focuses on the ocean and its rich bounty of healing elements plus the natural herbs and intoxicating spices of the surrounding lands. Shepherd says, “Not only does the location take guests on a unique escape to a private, serene oasis, but the interesting treatments and talented staff make this magical island location a spa lovers dream!”
Design influences from India and Morocco prevail in your lodgings. Bungalows with thatched roofs, tented awnings, and sheer curtains add an air of sensual, calming escape. Nautical details such as thick roping and wooden floor decking complement the heavy, textured walls and soothing colour palette used by interior designer Hinke Zieck to enhance the island experience.
Four Seasons Resort Maldives at Kuda Huraa occupies the entire island of Kuda Huraa, with 106 bungalows set on 12 acres surrounded by pristine jungle. The island is situated in the North Malé Atoll, northeast of the capital, Malé. It is 25 minutes by speedboat from the Malé International Airport and transfers are provided by Four Seasons` own fleet of speedboats.
Deftly flipping my wok, I mixed curry paste, herbs, fish sauce, shallots and prawns to create lunch at the new Lanna Cooking School in the Four Seasons Chiang Mai Resort. Outfitted with apron and an impressive array of knives and utensils, my first exercise at Thai cooking, was almost as much fun as eating the results.
Directed by a chef Pitak Srichan, whose wok is famous from Germany to Malaysia, the half-day programme includes demonstrations and hands-on cooking. Even beginners like myself have no problem, thanks to helpful assistants who set out the measured ingredients and take care of clean-up.
Housed in an open-air pavilion, the school has views of mountains and rice paddies. We worked at eight gas stoves equipped with the latest in exhaust hoods, then enjoyed the fruits of our labor in an outdoor dining pavilion set amid landscaped gardens above a waterfall. Complete with an herb garden and kitchenware boutique featuring Thai celadon dinnerware, the culinary centre was integrated with the resort by Bensley Design Group of Bangkok.
Classes are scheduled daily, Monday to Saturday, with a variety of spicy and non-spice dishes built around northern Thai staples: rice, fish, chicken, and pork. Each session costs $85 per person, and you get to keep the apron, recipes, and a special gift.
The Lanna Spa honors an ancient northern kingdom, a cross-roads of Burmese, Laotian, and Chinese cultures. Housed in a stunningly beautiful structure, spacious air-conditioned treatment suites include an herbal steam room, outdoor soaking tub or tropical rain shower massage table. Swimming pools enjoy views of the majestic Mae Rim valley, often shrouded in haze, lit by flaming torches as night approaches. Surrendering to the allure of the resort`s main restaurant, I dined on coffee-sauced duckling prepared by one of my classmates.
Bernard Burt is co-author of ‘100 Best Spas of the World’ with Pamela Price. The 2003 edition, featuring 25 new destinations, is now available on-line from Amazon, and from the publisher, Globe-Pequot Press.